‘I alone can fix it’

Neoliberalism

Democratic (neoliberal) Party

Joe Biden


Fig. 1. Joe Biden and Pope Francis, unknown photographer, April 29, 2016, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

It’s clearly difficult for Democrats to dislodge their most important figures even when political realities suggest that they should; all told, the Democratic party is best understood less as a political party organized to enact or protect specific policies than as a professional association committed to protecting its most valued members.[1]

It’s h-a-a-ar-rr-rr-d!!!! So, we’ll just hand the election to Donald Trump so we don’t hurt Joe Biden’s feelings. After all, we don’t really have a democracy anyway,[2] so what do we have to lose?

Well, for one thing, there are a lot of jobs lower on the pecking order—“down-ballot’ in the parlance—whose holders would like to keep them.

To say that the Democratic freak-out hasn’t abated is a rare understatement in a supremely, if justifiably, overheated moment. As of now, just five House Democrats—and only one from a swing district, Angie Craig of Minnesota—have publicly called for [Joe] Biden to drop out, but the number of congressional incumbents privately convinced he can’t win is vastly higher.

An A+ Democratic Senate source of mine reckons that, of the 51 sitting Ds and independents aligned with the party in the upper chamber, no more than half a dozen (including Delawareans Chris Coons and Tom Carper, as well as John Fetterman, who spent today on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania with the president after colorfully advising his party’s naysayers “to get a spine or grow a set”) believe he still has a plausible chance in November and want him to stay in the race. The ratio on the House side, as best as I can tell, is roughly the same.

As for the cash-raisers and check-collectors, a front-page story in the Sunday Washington Post quotes a “donor adviser” saying that “for every 10 people who think he should exit, one thinks he should stay.” Which sounds about right to me, with the added proviso that it’s probably more like one in 20 among big-dollar buckrakers on Wall Street and in Hollywood, where the post-debate backlash is particularly pitched.

In Bidenworld, however, the only impact all this appears to be having is the polar opposite of its intended effect. Despite credible midweek reporting that Biden had conceded to allies that he might not be able to save his candidacy, his posture has since hardened—publicly and privately—into the unalloyed defiance on display at his Friday rally in Wisconsin: “They’re trying to push me out of the race. Well, let me say this as clear as I can: I’m staying in the race!” . . .

The Defiance Defense, as I’ve come to think of it, has a clear strategic aim: to create pressure on elected Democrats not to go public with their private fears/convictions by raising the potential political cost of abandoning Biden at this late stage. But it also has a political price tag of its own: the wide and growing sense among those who aren’t members of the Biden family, or on the payroll, that the defiance of the president and his people is being animated by some lethal combination of denial, delusion, and desperation. . . .

Given the time constraints and the stakes of the interview, George [Stephanopoulos] did a great job [interviewing Biden for 22 minutes], I think. He was respectful but direct and persistent on the most essential questions, and he managed to eke out seven minutes more than Team Biden initially proposed. But the president would have been (or should have been) prepared for every one of those questions. The only way for him to put the debate catastrophe firmly in the rearview mirror would have been to sit for an extended, ask-me-anything interview, complete with queries on unexpected topics—not gotcha or trick questions, but a colloquy that included issues other than the debate, his mental acuity, and the calls for him to stand down—and hit them out of the park. But no one in Bidenworld would have been comfortable with that kind of uncontrolled, freewheeling colloquy with George, and given the performance that Biden proceeded to turn in, it’s easy to see why. . . .

Was he awful? No. Disqualifyingly addled? No. But was he anywhere in the vicinity of what it would have taken to reassure Democrats—most of whom, let’s keep in mind, have enormous affection for Biden and respect for what he’s accomplished as president—that he was up to the task at hand, which Biden himself has rightly defined as saving American democracy from an out-front, wannabe autocrat? Fuck no.[3]

I knew Justin Sherin, writing as “Dick Nixon,” would be going for the jugular with his opening words: “I alone can fix it.” He attributes the words to Donald Trump in 2016,[4] but he’s obviously, in parallel, alluding to Biden’s intransigence on stepping aside.[5] It’s the obvious rationale for functionalist conservatism: I am needed. I am necessary. I deserve and am entitled to the power and the privilege. Because “I alone can fix it.”

Surely the choice for ’24 is clear?

If the president were a younger man, perhaps. But he’s 82, and has visibly declined from even four years ago. His voice is softer, weaker. He mumbles. His stutter is worse. He takes long pauses in conversation. His answers can seem rote or clipped. No one in public life loved the sound of his own voice more than Joe Biden, but recently he seems afraid of it.

His catastrophic performance at the debate needs no discussion. But the panic over Biden’s age goes much deeper than that. The public never craved a rematch, and over the past year it’s solidified into dread. Up to 69 percent of voters—and 55 percent of Biden voters—think he’s too old for the job.

Such numbers don’t come from one “bad night.” Up to now, though, most people could swallow it. The president’s appearances are carefully stage managed. The great Irish raconteur rarely does interviews, doesn’t talk much off the cuff. He says what the president should say, then goes back behind the curtain. . . .

[Democratic Party elected officials] felt Biden’s record speaks for itself; or the age issue is moot, since he’d never step aside; or that fear of Trump would overwhelm everything. For many that’s all out the window now. The mood in the House is described as “despair.”

Biden committed one of the worst sins in politics—confirming people’s worst assumptions. It’s difficult to come back from that.[6]

It’s not just Biden “confirming people’s worst assumptions.” It’s that the assumptions—irrespective of merit—are now, because Biden made them so, lethal. It won’t just be “difficult to come back from that,” but impossible—and regardless of what they say in public, more and more Democrats are coming to that realization.[7]

As we speak, congressional Democrats are returning to D.C. from recess, having been in their districts hearing from their constituents every day since the debate. One plausible (but far from certain) assumption is that however high their dudgeon, it’s likely to be spun up further once they’re face to face and all in one place—planning, plotting, and banding together. Everyone covering this drama, very much including me, has heard from electeds over the last week, and especially post-[George] Stephanopoulos, who say they’re on the brink of speaking out or signing letters calling on [Joe] Biden to take a powder. How many, and which ones, actually will? Good questions.

But if the news breaking as I type this is any indication, the answers could turn out to be: a lot, and ones who matter. Per the [New York] Times, during House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ Zoom call for ranking committee members earlier today, four senior members on the call (Jerry Nadler of New York, Adam Smith of Washington, Mark Takano of California, and Joe Morelle of New York) said explicitly that Biden should end his candidacy, while two others (Jim Himes of Connecticut and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania) voiced doubts about his path forward. The Times noted that two attendees issued statements of support for Biden, but the story’s lede minced no words about the implications of the meeting: “President Biden’s base of support among key Democrats on Capitol Hill began to crumble.”[8]

John Heilemann, “Bidenworld’s Darkest Hour,” Puck, July 1, 2024, https://puck.news/should-biden-stay-or-should-he-go/

Matthew Choi, “Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett calls on Biden to withdraw from presidential race,” Texas Tribune, July 2, 2024, https://www.texastribune.org/2024/07/02/lloyd-doggett-joe-biden-withdraw-election/

Liz Goodwin et al., “Manchin threatened to break with Biden before senior Democrats intervened,” Washington Post, July 2, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/02/joe-manchin-biden-debate-democrats-drop-out/

Peter Hamby, “Biden Plunges in Swing States in Leaked Post-Debate Poll,” Puck, July 2, 2024, https://puck.news/biden-plunges-in-swing-states-in-leaked-post-debate-poll/

Jared Mitovich, “Democrats begin attacking Biden’s performance and campaign,” Politico, July 2, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/07/02/democrats-biden-debate-fallout-00166208

Eli Stokols et al., “‘We’ve all enabled the situation’: Dems turn on Biden’s inner sanctum post debate,” Politico, July 2, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/07/02/biden-campaign-debate-inner-circle-00166160

Prem Thakker, “Every Democrat Other Than Joe Biden Is Unburdened by What Has Been,” Intercept, July 2, 2024, https://theintercept.com/2024/07/02/biden-polls-democrats-alternative-candidates/

M. J. Lee, “Biden has privately acknowledged next stretch of days are critical for whether he can save his reelection bid,” Cable News Network, July 3, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/07/03/politics/joe-biden-2024-campaign-troubles

Ally Mutnick et al., “‘Everybody’s in panic mode’ as House Democrats scramble after debate,” Politico, July 3, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/07/03/house-democrats-biden-debate-00166533

Michael Scherer, Tyler Pager, and Matt Viser, “Biden faces growing political crisis over response to debate performance,” Washington Post, July 3, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/03/biden-crisis-debate-democrats/

Stephen Collinson and Shelby Rose to Meanwhile in America list, “The dark cloud hanging over Biden’s Independence Day Party,” Cable News Network, July 4, 2024, https://edition.cnn.com/newsletters/meanwhile-in-america

Yasmeen Abutaleb et al., “Biden’s aging is seen as accelerating, lapses described as more common,” Washington Post, July 5, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/05/biden-aging-recent-months/

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Liz Goodwin, “Sen. Mark Warner works to gather Senate Democrats to ask Biden to exit race,” Washington Post, July 5, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/05/mark-warner-joe-biden-exit-race-democratic-senators/

Rebecca Falconer, “Biden says he’s ‘not going anywhere’ as calls for him to step aside grow,” Axios, July 5, 2024, https://www.axios.com/2024/07/05/biden-democratic-donors-finance-disney-heiress

David A. Graham, “What is the Biden campaign’s theory of victory now?” Atlantic, July 5, 2024, https://apple.news/AyCMikft8TDuFf_elUgfQSA

Eric Levitz, “In an ABC interview, Biden charts a course for Dems’ worst-case scenario,” Vox, July 5, 2024, https://www.vox.com/politics/359160/biden-abc-news-interview-drop-out

David Smith, “Biden says only ‘the Lord almighty’ could make him drop out in pivotal TV interview,” Guardian, July 5, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/article/2024/jul/05/biden-george-stephanopoulos-debate-interview

David Axelrod, “Biden’s defiant delusion,” Cable News Network, July 6, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/07/06/opinions/biden-failed-to-quell-panic-abc-interview-axelrod/index.html

Lauren Koenig, Samantha Waldenberg, and Betsy Klein, “Radio host who interviewed Biden says aides provided questions in advance,” Cable News Network, July 6, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/07/06/politics/biden-radio-interview-questions/index.html

Michael Scherer, Tyler Pager, and Josh Dawsey, “Biden thought he had it under control. Then it got worse,” Washington Post, July 6, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/06/biden-debate-white-house-campaign/

Matt Viser and Shane Harris, “As Biden digs in, another elected Democrat calls on him to exit race,” Washington Post, July 6, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2024/07/06/biden-democrats-presidential-campaign/

Yasmeen Abutaleb, Tyler Pager, and Aaron Schaffer, “Debate brings scrutiny of whether aides shielded signs of Biden’s aging,” Washington Post, July 7, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/07/white-house-aides-biden-age/

A. J. McDougall, “Obama’s Go-To Guy in the White House Says There’s No Way Biden Wins,” Daily Beast, July 7, 2024, https://apple.news/AU8MNINntR1m20zzN4_lerw

Gillian McGoldrick, “Andrea Lawful-Sanders leaves WURD after White House provides questions for Joe Biden interview,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 7, 2024, https://www.inquirer.com/politics/joe-biden-andrea-lawful-sanders-wurd-interview-20240707.html

Ashley Parker and Meryl Kornfield, “Watching Biden, many see the heartbreaking indignities of aging,” Washington Post, July 7, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2024/07/07/biden-aging-debate-performance/

Kavita Patel, “I’m a doctor. Biden’s debate performance led me to a very different takeaway,” MSNBC, July 7, 2024, https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/biden-debate-nominee-ageism-aging-rcna160319

Matt Viser, Marianna Sotomayor, and Maeve Reston, “Nine House Democrats call for Biden to step aside as he seeks to energize his campaign,” Washington Post, July 7, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/07/biden-campaign-trump/

John Heilemann, “Biden vs. The World,” Puck, July 8, 2024, https://puck.news/biden-vs-the-world/

Dick Nixon [Justin Sherin], “The Crisis,” July 8, 2024, https://www.patreon.com/posts/crisis-107757333

Osita Nwanevu, “Democrats don’t just need a new candidate. They need a reckoning,” Guardian, July 8, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/jul/08/democrats-joe-biden-election


  1. [1]Osita Nwanevu, “Democrats don’t just need a new candidate. They need a reckoning,” Guardian, July 8, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/jul/08/democrats-joe-biden-election
  2. [2]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, July 3, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  3. [3]John Heilemann, “Biden vs. The World,” Puck, July 8, 2024, https://puck.news/biden-vs-the-world/
  4. [4]Dick Nixon [Justin Sherin], “The Crisis,” July 8, 2024, https://www.patreon.com/posts/crisis-107757333
  5. [5]Matt Viser and Shane Harris, “As Biden digs in, another elected Democrat calls on him to exit race,” Washington Post, July 6, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2024/07/06/biden-democrats-presidential-campaign/
  6. [6]Dick Nixon [Justin Sherin], “The Crisis,” July 8, 2024, https://www.patreon.com/posts/crisis-107757333
  7. [7]Yasmeen Abutaleb, Tyler Pager, and Aaron Schaffer, “Debate brings scrutiny of whether aides shielded signs of Biden’s aging,” Washington Post, July 7, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/07/white-house-aides-biden-age/; David Axelrod, “Biden’s defiant delusion,” Cable News Network, July 6, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/07/06/opinions/biden-failed-to-quell-panic-abc-interview-axelrod/index.html; Rebecca Falconer, “Biden says he’s ‘not going anywhere’ as calls for him to step aside grow,” Axios, July 5, 2024, https://www.axios.com/2024/07/05/biden-democratic-donors-finance-disney-heiress; John Heilemann, “Biden vs. The World,” Puck, July 8, 2024, https://puck.news/biden-vs-the-world/; A. J. McDougall, “Obama’s Go-To Guy in the White House Says There’s No Way Biden Wins,” Daily Beast, July 7, 2024, https://apple.news/AU8MNINntR1m20zzN4_lerw; Michael Scherer, Tyler Pager, and Josh Dawsey, “Biden thought he had it under control. Then it got worse,” Washington Post, July 6, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/06/biden-debate-white-house-campaign/; Matt Viser and Shane Harris, “As Biden digs in, another elected Democrat calls on him to exit race,” Washington Post, July 6, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2024/07/06/biden-democrats-presidential-campaign/; Matt Viser, Marianna Sotomayor, and Maeve Reston, “Nine House Democrats call for Biden to step aside as he seeks to energize his campaign,” Washington Post, July 7, 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2024/07/07/biden-campaign-trump/
  8. [8]John Heilemann, “Biden vs. The World,” Puck, July 8, 2024, https://puck.news/biden-vs-the-world/

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